One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Nurse Ratched Character Analysis

Often referred to as “Big Nurse.” She runs the psychiatric ward with an iron fist, and functions as the novel’s antagonist. She’s a middle-aged, former Army nurse whose principal tactic of control is emasculating her male patients. She successfully controls the ward by carefully selecting staff that will be submissive to her. The novel pits her against Randle McMurphy.

Nurse Ratched Quotes in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

The One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest quotes below are all either spoken by Nurse Ratched or refer to Nurse Ratched. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest published in 2002.
Part One Quotes

If somebody’d of come in and took a look, men watching a blank TV, a fifty-year –old woman hollering and squealing at the back of their heads about discipline and order and recriminations, they’d of thought the whole bunch was crazy as loons.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Nurse Ratched
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part Two Quotes

They’re trying to act like they still got their eyes on nothing but that blank TV in front of us, but anyone can see they’re all sneaking looks at the Big Nurse behind her glass there, just the same as I am. For the first time she’s on the other side of the glass and getting a taste of how it feels to be watched when you wish more than anything else to be able to pull a green shade between your face and all the eyes that you can’t get away from.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Nurse Ratched
Page Number: 129
Explanation and Analysis:

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There was times that week when I’d hear that full-throttled laugh, watch [McMurphy] scratching his belly and stretching and yawning and leaning back to wink at whoever he was joking with, everything coming to him just as natural as drawing breath, and I’d quit worrying about the Big Nurse and the Combine behind her. I’d think he was strong enough being his own self that he would never back down the way she was hoping he would. I’d think, maybe he truly is something extraordinary. He’s what he is, that’s it. Maybe that makes him strong enough, being what he is. The Combine hasn’t got to him in all these years; what makes the nurse think she’s gonna be able to do it in a few weeks? He’s not gonna let them twist him and manufacture him.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy, Nurse Ratched
Related Symbols: Laughter
Page Number: 139-140
Explanation and Analysis:

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McMurphy doesn’t know it, but he’s onto what I realized a long time back, that it’s not just the Big Nurse by herself, but it’s the whole Combine, the nation-wide Combine that’s the really big force, and the nurse is just a high-ranking official for them.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy, Nurse Ratched
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:

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Please understand: We do not impose certain rules and restrictions on you without a great deal of thought about their therapeutic value. A good many of you are in here because you could not adjust to the rules of society in the Outside World, because you refused to face up to them, because you tried to circumvent them and avoid them. At some time—perhaps in your childhood—you may have been allowed to get away with flouting the rules of society. When you broke a rule you knew it. You wanted to be dealt with, needed it, but the punishment did not come. That foolish lenience on the part of your parents may have been the germ that grew into your present illness. I tell you this hoping you will understand that it is entirely for your own good that we enforce discipline and order.

Related Characters: Nurse Ratched (speaker)
Page Number: 170
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part Four Quotes

[Nurse Ratched] knew that people, being like they are, sooner or later are going to draw back a ways from somebody who seems to be giving a little more than ordinary, form Santa Clauses and missionaries and men donating funds to worthy causes, and begin to wonder: what’s in it for them? Grin out of the side of their mouths when the young lawyer, say, brings a sack of pecans to the kids in his district school—just before nominations for state senate, the sly devil—and say to one another, He’s nobody’s fool.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Nurse Ratched
Related Symbols: Gambling
Page Number: 225
Explanation and Analysis:

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I tried to talk to [McMurphy] into playing along with [Nurse Ratched] so’s to get out of the treatments, but he just laughed and told me Hell, all they was doin’ was chargin’ his battery for him, free for nothing.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy, Nurse Ratched
Page Number: 250
Explanation and Analysis:

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First Charles Cheswick and now William Bibbit! I hope you’re finally satisfied. Playing with human lives—gambling with human lives—as if you thought yourself to be a God!

Related Characters: Nurse Ratched (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy, Billy Bibbit, Charles Cheswick
Page Number: 274
Explanation and Analysis:

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She tried to get her ward back into shape, but it was difficult with McMurphy’s presence still tromping up and down the halls and laughing out loud in the meetings and singing in the latrines. She couldn’t rule with her old power any more, not by writing things on pieces of paper. She was losing her patients one after the other. After Harding signed out and was picked up by his wife, and George transferred to a different ward, just three of us were left out of the group that had been on the fishing crew, myself and Martini and Scanlon.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy, Nurse Ratched, Dale Harding, George Sorenson, Martini, Scanlon
Related Symbols: Laughter
Page Number: 277
Explanation and Analysis:

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I was only sure of one thing: [McMurphy] wouldn’t have left something like that sit there in the day room with his name tacked on it for twenty or thirty years so the Big Nurse could use it as an example of what can happen if you buck the system. I was sure of that.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy, Nurse Ratched
Page Number: 278
Explanation and Analysis:

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Nurse Ratched Character Timeline in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

The timeline below shows where the character Nurse Ratched appears in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part One
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
Nurse Ratched, also known as the “Big Nurse”, enters the ward. Bromden knows it’s her by the... (full context)
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
Nurse Ratched composes herself. Bromden describes her face as being precisely made, like a doll, with everything... (full context)
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Nurse Ratched proposes that to get a good start to Monday the aides should shave Bromden. He... (full context)
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Nurse Ratched is calling for McMurphy (initially as McMurphy, her error) about his refusal to follow protocol.... (full context)
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Bromden relates how strictly Nurse Ratched runs her ward. He believes that she’s part of a larger conglomerate of the outside... (full context)
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The group meeting takes place and Nurse Ratched brings up what they had discussed on Friday: Harding’s relationship with his wife. Nurse Ratched... (full context)
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...larger world. Bromden recalls one time when the doctor was giving this speech and Nurse Ratched asked if anyone would like to start, and a bunch of Acutes started confessing dark... (full context)
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...party can wipe out the entire flock if you aren’t careful. McMurphy says that Nurse Ratched is the first to peck, and she’s pecking at Harding—and the rest of the men’s—balls.... (full context)
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...Harding says that Dr. Spivey is like the rest of the men, submissive to Nurse Ratched. She can’t be fired because the doctor doesn’t have the power, it’s the supervisor’s power... (full context)
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...to say he’s not a rabbit. McMurphy suggests that the men just shouldn’t answer Nurse Ratched’s questions but McMurphy learns what The Shock Shop is: where men are sent by Nurse... (full context)
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...nurse who they see as icy. McMurphy makes a bet that he can make Nurse Ratched lose her temper by the end of his first week. McMurphy says he conned his... (full context)
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Bromden believes that Nurse Ratched has the power to set the clock at any speed to alter time to either... (full context)
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Nurse Ratched arrives and prepares to punish McMurphy when she learns of his behavior, but he exits... (full context)
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McMurphy is especially cocky after his mild victory with Nurse Ratched. He spends the morning playing blackjack again with IOUs instead of cigarettes. The music is... (full context)
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...Series on television (something for which McMurphy had been taking bets). McMurphy proposes to Nurse Ratched that the men be allowed to watch the games, even though it deviates from the... (full context)
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...and Bromden feels the fog starting to thicken in the room, which he believes Nurse Ratched turned on because she’s going to do something to McMurphy. Bromden can vaguely hear what’s... (full context)
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The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
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...watching the World Series, and Bromden watches as all twenty Acutes raise their hands. Nurse Ratched responds that the proposal is defeated because McMurphy needs a majority and there are forty... (full context)
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...it’s game-time and he sits down in front of the TV and turns it on. Ratched cuts off the power, but McMurphy stays seated and the other Acutes pull up chairs... (full context)
Part Two
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The Acutes and the aides are watching Nurse Ratched after her outburst while she sits in the nurse’s station. Bromden notes that the fog... (full context)
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...to discuss McMurphy and the other residents (i.e. doctors in training) are all present. Nurse Ratched sits quietly at the meeting, and the residents take her silence as approval of their... (full context)
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Nurse Ratched immediately assigns McMurphy to latrine duty after the staff meeting, i.e. cleaning the communal bathroom.... (full context)
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...the latrine. McMurphy is satisfied with how things have changed, but is surprised that Nurse Ratched isn’t putting up more of a visible fight. He muses that perhaps she just needed... (full context)
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McMurphy learns why Ratched is so calm when, that Wednesday, the ward is taken on a mandatory trip to... (full context)
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Some of the patients suspect that McMurphy is playing a long con against Nurse Ratched, and that’s why he didn’t speak up—but Bromden heard him speaking with the lifeguard and... (full context)
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Soon after, while waiting in the lunch line, Sefelt has an epileptic seizure. Nurse Ratched comes and stands over him saying Sefelt has been refusing his anti-seizure medication. Nurse Ratched... (full context)
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...explains the Shock Shop (EST). Harding says it isn’t always used for punishment, like Nurse Ratched uses it, and can sometimes actually help people. Harding says McMurphy shouldn’t worry about it... (full context)
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...he was unaware of the stakes and the danger it put him in with Nurse Ratched: shock treatment, lobotomy, not being able to leave. Harding shocks McMurphy by responding that Scanlon... (full context)
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...persists until that afternoon when they have a group session. After the meeting finishes, Nurse Ratched says that she has decided with Dr. Spivey that because of the lack of remorse... (full context)
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Nurse Ratched ends the discussion. McMurphy shrugs and stretches as he stands up. Bromden says he can... (full context)
Part Three
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...the glass at the nurse’s station, he goes back to his rebellious ways while Nurse Ratched bides her time until she can come up with another idea to get her ahead... (full context)
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...days later, the same day a new glass is installed at the nurse’s station. Nurse Ratched rejects the request, saying that Candy doesn’t seem wholesome. McMurphy shrugs and walks to the... (full context)
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...two of his nice aunts who live a small town outside of Oregon City. Nurse Ratched posts a newspaper clipping about rough seas and suggests the men think carefully about whether... (full context)
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...by her beauty, and how she doesn’t hide her femininity under a white uniform. Nurse Ratched threatens to cancel the trip because not all the men can fit in Candy’s car,... (full context)
Part Four
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Nurse Ratched’s next play against McMurphy starts the day after the fishing trip. She posts a “statement... (full context)
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Nurse Ratched ensures that everyone who went on the fishing trip has to get a mandatory shower,... (full context)
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Nurse Ratched visits Disturbed the next day and says that the patients agreed with the staff that... (full context)
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...treatments that week alone. As soon as the old spark in him would return, Nurse Ratched would come up and order another round. Bromden tries to talk McMurphy into playing along... (full context)
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Knowing that Nurse Ratched will only keep hounding McMurphy, many of the patients tell him he should make a... (full context)
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...McMurphy had managed to get out, he wouldn’t bear to be away to “let the Big Nurse have the last move and get the last play…It was like he’d signed on for... (full context)
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...wake up, they are amazed at the party they had the night before. As Nurse Ratched discovers more and more damning evidence, the patients start laughing uncontrollably, which only makes Nurse... (full context)
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Nurse Ratched discovers Billy and Candy in the Seclusion Room and is shocked and appalled, though Billy... (full context)
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Nurse Ratched approaches McMurphy with the news of Billy’s death and asks him if he’s satisfied with... (full context)
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In the week after McMurphy attacked Nurse Ratched, while Ratched is on medical leave, Sefelt and Fredrickson signed out of the hospital Against... (full context)
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Nurse Ratched tries after that to return the ward to the way it was before McMurphy, but... (full context)
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...that in the day room for the next twenty or thirty years just so Nurse Ratched could use him as “an example of what can happen if you buck the system.”... (full context)